FILM SPECTACLE FROM 1979
Before he drove gloriously on the Fury Road, before he faced Aunty Entity and went Beyond Thunderdome, and even before they called him the Road Warrior, he was simply a man named Max… who went Mad. In 1979, director George Miller and producer Byron Kennedy brought a new hero into the world of cinema with Mad Max. A revenge drama based around an Australian cop in a not-too-distant future, Miller’s debut feature showcased his early skills at showcasing high-octane action sequences, narratively precise storytelling, and visually stunning imagery. Mad Max was here, and there was no going back.
But what really happened behind the scenes during the making of this gonzo action spectacle? How did George Miller and his ragtag team of Aussie filmmakers come up with the idea for this close-to-dystopian action bonanza? How did they find Mel Gibson to star as the titular crazy cop? And how dangerous was it to actually film these death-defying stunts? It’s time to start your engines and blare those sirens, because we’re taking a look at what you don’t know about 1979’s Mad Max.
On most movie sets that are dangerous, you’re likely going to want to have a doctor or medical team handy for any mishaps that might take place during production. But Mad Max had something up its sleeve to one-up all other film sets: a director with his own history of medical experience. That’s right — before becoming a filmmaker, George Miller spent his early years working in the emergency room at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, Australia.
During his time working in this profession, Miller witnessed many victims of automobile and other vehicular accidents firsthand, providing a form of twisted inspiration for the kinds of incidents that would take place in the Mad Max films. It was this early empathetic view into the world of medicine and human care that likely shaped the rest of Miller’s career, and informed him of the barbaric damage that can be done to the human body all for the sake of a few cheap thri
George Miller was the man in the director’s chair, but any and all success that the Mad Max series has enjoyed must be shared with his co-producer Byron Kennedy. The late, great co-producer of Mad Max and Mad Max 2, Kennedy served as the second set of brains behind bringing this action-packed masterpiece to the big screen.
After meeting at a film workshop at Melbourne University, Miller and Kennedy first collaborated on the short film Violence in the Cinema, Part 1 — which, per the title, offers a loving tribute, parody, and dissection of the world of movie violence. The short garnered acclaim across the country, and gave Kennedy and Miller the confidence to not only start their own production company (which they aptly named Kennedy Miller), but to embark on their first feature production. Although Kennedy tragically passed away in a helicopter crash in 1983, George Miller has kept on producing under the Kennedy Miller production banner. Kennedy’s legacy also lives on in the form of the Byron Kennedy Award, which has been handed out annually since 1984 to honor “outstanding creative enterprise within the film and television industries… whose work embodies the qualities of Byron Kennedy: innovation, vision and the relentless pursuit of excellence.”
He whistles at the bars
He’d go on to become one of the most famous — and then infamous — film stars in the world, but before all the blockbusters that made him instantly recognizable to moviegoers, Mel Gibson earned his action hero stripes in Mad Max. After his debut in the initial Mad Max film (which was only his second credited feature film role), he would cement his glory in the next two Mad Max features while landing starring roles in a wide variety of films that included action hits like the Lethal Weapon franchise as well as comedies like What Women Want.
When looking for actors for Mad Max, Miller and his team called in a group of recent graduates from the National Institute of Dramatic Art to try out for the menacing young men who populate the film. Luckily, Gibson was among these recent grads, and legend has it, he would go out and get beat up in fights the nights before auditions so that he could come in looking tough. Legend or reality, Gibson got himself the role of a lifetime, and got the ball rolling on this adventure once and for a.
Mel Gibson won the ‘Australian Oscar’ in 1979… but not for Mad Max
While Fury Road was the first entry in the Mad Max saga to achieve any sort of Academy Award recognition (including six wins, and additional nominations for Best Director and Best Picture), the original Mad Max still had its fair share of awards recognition at Australia’s very own film awards ceremony, then known as the AFI but today known as the AACTA (Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts) Awards, where it received seven nominations (including for Best Film and Best Direction) and racked up three wins for Editing, Original Music Score, and Sound.